Skip to comments.More than hindsight, we need foresight to go on (Buzz Aldrin's NASA/Columbia Shuttle editorial)
Posted on 02/04/2003 7:14:08 PM PST by weegee
On Saturday, I set three alarms for 6 in the morning. But when I turned on the television, I was puzzled by the relative silence at Mission Control. Though landing time was approaching, there was little activity. The realization dawned as slowly for me, a veteran astronaut, as for everyone else. There was no immediate or decisive announcement, only a slow recognition that a catastrophe had occurred.
I didn't know these astronauts. But I know what they were doing, because I've done it. Astronauts face danger all the time. It's a job where danger is a basic assumption. But you don't think of it that way. You can't.
I became an astronaut because flying had always been part of my life. My father had flown in the 1920s and '30s; he was a major in the Army Air Corps. He was acquainted with Amelia Earhart and Orville Wright. My aunt was one of the first stewardesses, and my uncle was an air traffic manager at Eastern.
Flying at that time was exciting; it was a new kind of frontier. It wasn't yet something all the other children thought of. There was no such thing as being an astronaut in those days, but I knew from a very young age that I wanted to go up in the air.
It was always dangerous. Being a pilot in Korea was dangerous and I did that. For a fighter pilot, the danger is that people are shooting at you. In space, the danger is different: It is the unknown, the inability to respond. In space, we always knew that we were risking our lives. But if you're going to do it, you can't think of it that way. I've had my moments where things went wrong, and I've had to push aside fear.
In 1969, when Neil Armstrong and I made the first landing on the moon, descending toward the surface we experienced a series of computer alarms, and then we ran low on fuel. We didn't panic because we had learned to manage those emotions and set them aside. We had been trained to understand that not everyone survives these situations. That's just the nature of the business.
I don't know that it makes us heroes. I don't even know if the Columbia astronauts were heroes. They were doing something challenging, and they faced great danger. But it all happened so fast that they weren't given the opportunity to respond. A hero is someone who is faced with a decision, and the decision made is ultimately what makes that person into a hero. But these men and women had no time to choose. They were just doing their duty. They weren't offered a chance to respond. They died doing their duty.
What's important now is that we not stop or slow down our space program.
We should take a step back and figure out what went wrong, and we should think about whether we chose the best possible path. But then we have to acknowledge that we did choose it, and that we owe it to our partners and investors and to the nation and to those who sacrificed their lives to continue it.
There were alternatives that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration might have chosen, and we might be in better shape if we had chosen differently. We underestimated the cost of the space shuttle. It is more complicated to maintain than we believed. The space station is far more difficult to assemble than we had originally thought. International cooperation is not an easy to thing to establish. And the cost of erecting the space station and the time it is taking to put it up are not what we anticipated; it is much more difficult.
One thing that this terrible tragedy has demonstrated is that we don't have an adequate escape provision on the shuttle itself. I have been encouraging NASA to modify the shuttle. This catastrophe might have been avoidable if there had been a discrete, survivable escape pod that could separate from the orbiter as it began to break up. Possibly, the astronauts would have been able to continue the re-entry, with parachutes guiding them to a soft landing on land or ocean.
But that's all hindsight. Now we have to look for the best alternatives going forward, so that when we look back 10 or 15 years from now, we can say that in 2003, as a result of the Columbia tragedy, we examined our alternatives closely and made the right decisions.
The United States started something in space, and the world expects us to continue. The future still holds great possibilities. We have to start thinking seriously about the notion of public space travel and commercial activity in space. Beginning with government research and exploration, we need to move toward private citizens in space. We must develop mature rockets and spacecraft as well as hotels and habitats in low orbit for public space travel. From that base we can venture beyond low Earth orbit to the moon, to asteroids and to Mars. It's absolutely critical that we continue our efforts.
- Aldrin is the second human to walk on the moon.
With all due respect to Mr. Aldrin- there is no damn "JUST" about it, not when the duty they were performing comes with the risks that it did, and requires as much dedication and excellence to fulfill.
That only works if:
1)The crew are aware of the impending danger.
2)Power is still available.
I don't think either of those were the case.
What I would like to see is a direct synchronization of the video of the orbiter breaking up plus the audio plus the telemetry data together in one presentation. We could learn a lot from that.
I wrote to Cong. Pepper who headed the Sub committee on space and science. He sent me a box of congressional reports and papers that spoke of a marvelous machine. The Enterprise was to be made flight worthy after its initial drop tests and launch stand/test article usage. Never funded by Congress the Enterprise has sat moldering in a hanger At Dulles Airport since 1985.
The follow on to the ceramic tiles was to be a metallic heat shield, not unlike the material tested for the VentureStar orbital vehicle. This material now sits on the shelf but Congress never funded in the 80s when it should have.
We must wrest control of Space from NASA and give it to our educational system to develop commerically, technically, socially, and culturally. NASA is beaurcratic and needs to be replaced.
See my article about Space University at www.nssnt.org
I think he means having the crew sit inside a reentry survivable "egg" on the way down.
If they make it to approach, fine. If not, the shuttle is pulverized, the egg falls free, and is "Soyuz-soft" landed by parachute.
He sure did. More power to him.
That said, I agree with how we've gotten locked into a space station that does nothing to expand our space exploration outward.
The Russians have seemed to take more of a capitalist agenda to their space program than the US has considering they charge for space tourists. America holds the patents on some space program originated technologies but some of the products in use are not even made in the US. I'm not talking about things being made for the space program, rather things that are being sold using technology we pioneered (and see no $$$ on). I figure that "we" get money for satellite launches and maybe some of the science experiments.
The moon program astronauts I've spoken with feel let down that the space program has gone no farther with manned space exploration missions. They know that they will not live long enough to see any further manned space voyages.
On this issue at least, his opinion is worth much; yours is worth squat.
I'd say he also thinks the ISS is merely the UN office with the best view, but then I'd be putting words in his mouth.
At this point, it's time to cut our losses and let that boondoogle drop into the sea. It's time to privatize the space program and get the hell out of low earth orbit. Colonize the moon, with an eye on Mars.
It certainly does look like the event on and after 8:00am CST was picked up.
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